Were those readers in for a surprise!

Timbuktu by Paul Auster Faber pounds 12.99

Paul Auster is one of a handful of true literary giants at work today. The New York Trilogy, The Music of Chance and Moon Palace are without doubt three of the great novels of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Now, with his last publication of the century, Timbuktu, Auster has broken new ground again. Never before in the history of literature can a celebrated novelist have published a book so closely resembling a high school English assignment. For the sheer giddying plummet in quality represented by Timbuktu, Auster acquires the mystique of a Francis Ford Coppola or an Orson Welles as one of the few people who has scaled the heights and also drunk from the depths of artistic achievement.

A recurrent theme in Auster's work is the frittering away of wealth, and one almost feels that the author is now playing out this theme on his own talent. Just as many of the down-and-outs who appear throughout his novels differ from their peers in that they once had large sums of money, so Timbuktu reads like any number of pet books, standing apart only for the wealth of talent that has been squandered on such puerile subject matter.

The novel's protagonist is Mr Bones, the dog owned by Willy G Christmas, a mentally ill down-and-out who dies approximately a third of the way through the book. For the rest of the novel, Mr Bones wanders around looking for someone to look after him, eventually finding a suburban family who take him in, though at considerable cost to his freedom.

If the book didn't bill itself as "one of the richest, most compelling tales in recent American fiction", complete with a comparison to Don Quixote in the blurb and a Goya painting on the cover, one could simply accept it as a passable attempt at a kids' book. However, read as serious literature, Timbuktu falls embarrassingly short.

The prose style matches the naivety of the subject matter, with phrases like "Was that little mutt in for a surprise!" peppering the narrative. At it's worst, Auster's style descends to truly nauseating kitsch. How one of the major figures in 20th- century literature could come to write the sentence, "This kid meant him no harm, and if Mr Bones was wrong about that, then he would turn in his dog badge and spend the rest of his life as a porcupine" is one of the mysteries of our time.

Worse still, Auster now seems to have decided that puns are funny, and makes connections between dog and God, and Santa and Satan which would be uninteresting even if they were original. The whole book, in fact, reads like a pun on the shaggy dog story - being a story about a shaggy dog in which nothing much happens.

Auster seems to have set out to try to make Lassie look like anthropomorphism-lite. In swallowing the conventions of anthropomorphic writing, Auster hasn't just taken on the sickly cuteness, but has also adopted the obligatory inconsistencies of the genre. Having heard the dog's critical opinions on his owner's poetry, along with his thoughts on love, friendship and the passage of time, we are later told that "he was only a dog, and he wasn't capable of thinking ... ahead".

Thus we get the cuteness of dogs as "more intelligent than people" (yes - this really is suggested) without forgoing the cuteness of dogs as baby substitutes who don't know what they're doing.

Presumably, Auster's intention in this novel is to continue the debate on wealth and poverty that has threaded through his entire oeuvre - the comforts of the former versus the freedoms of the latter. To be fair to him, the final chapter of the book, with Mr Bones installed in a suburban garden, does present an interesting comparison to the first chapter, where he is on the road with his mentally ill former owner. If, by this stage, you have got used to reading with a sickbag on your lap and have persisted with the book, in its closing stages Timbuktu will at last reward your persistence. The dog's perceptions of suburban family life are amusing and reasonably insightful. But by this stage it is far too late.

The kind of people who send each other soft focus birthday cards of puppies sitting on pink satin sheets might enjoy this book, but for the rest of us Timbuktu will only serve as an emetic.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end